hemlock

noun

hem·​lock ˈhem-ˌläk How to pronounce hemlock (audio)
1
a
: any of several poisonous herbs (such as a poison hemlock or a water hemlock) of the carrot family having finely cut leaves and small white flowers
b
: a drug or lethal drink prepared from the poison hemlock
2
: any of a genus (Tsuga) of evergreen coniferous trees of the pine family
also : the soft light splintery wood of a hemlock

Examples of hemlock in a Sentence

Socrates died after drinking hemlock.
Recent Examples on the Web The root can be confused with the poisonous plant hemlock, which is fatal if ingested. Barbie Cervoni, Verywell Health, 11 Mar. 2024 Osha and hemlock can often be differentiated by examining their roots and smell. Barbie Cervoni, Verywell Health, 11 Mar. 2024 Stroll past sugar maples and Eastern hemlocks on the 3.2-mile round-trip Long Point Trail for a panoramic view of the legendary structure. Emily Pennington, Southern Living, 6 Mar. 2024 The drive to Treehouse Point, half an hour east of Seattle, takes you through a forest fit for hobbits, crowded full of fir, spruce, cedar, maple and hemlock. Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, 27 Feb. 2024 Western red cedar, western hemlock and big leaf maple have all seen die-offs and growth declines in recent years tied to climate. Nathan Gilles, Fortune, 28 Dec. 2023 There are a couple of exceptions since yews (Taxus) and hemlock (Tsuga) regrow well from regular pruning. Miri Talabac, Baltimore Sun, 15 Feb. 2024 The risk of failure Case’s project involves testing whether breeds of native Douglas fir and western hemlock from drier parts of the Pacific Northwest can be used to help western Washington forests adapt to climate change. Nathan Gilles, Fortune, 28 Dec. 2023 Symptoms of hemlock poisoning include trembling, muscle paralysis and a loss of speech. Noor Adatia, Dallas News, 3 June 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hemlock.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English hemelok, humlok, homloke, going back to Old English hymlic, hemlic, hymblicae (in the Épinal Glossary for Latin cicūta "hemlock"), of uncertain origin

Note: The application of a word for the toxic plant Conium maculatum to a conifer began in North America in the eighteenth century, there being a nomenclatural gap, as conifers of the genus Tsuga are not native to Europe. The basis for the name is unclear. According to The Century Dictionary (1889), under the entry hemlock-spruce, the tree was "so called from the resemblance of its branches in tenuity and position to the leaves of the common hemlock, Conium maculatum." Wikipedia states (as of 12/7/21) that "the common name hemlock is derived from a perceived similarity in the smell of its crushed foliage to that of the unrelated plant poison hemlock." — The word hemlock, going back to the earliest Old English glossaries, is without congeners in other Germanic languages. It appears to be attested as both a strong masculine and weak feminine noun. In An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction (University of Minnesota Press, 2008, pp. 105-08), A. Liberman surveys earlier unsatisfying attempts at an etymology and presents his own hypothesis. He sees a connection with Old High German hemera, glossing the toxic plant names veratrum (Veratrum album L.) and elleborus (Helleborus niger L.). As a plant name, this word has long been compared with Old Russian/Russian Church Slavic čemerŭ "a poisonous plant of the genus Veratrum" (with related forms elsewhere in Slavic) and Lithuanian kemeraĩ (plural) "the plant Eupatorium cannabinum." Liberman, following in part O.N. Trubačev, et al., Ètimologičeskij slovarʼ slavjanskix jazykov: praslavjanskij leksičeskij fond (Vypusk 4, pp. 52-53), segments Slavic *čemerŭ into dialectal Indo-European *kem- and a suffix *-er-, and takes *kem- as the formative element behind hym-/hem- in the hemlock word. The second element -lic- he takes as a suffix of plant names comparable with -ling in Old High German skeriling "hemlock" and -lic in Old English cerlic "wild mustard (Brassica kaber), charlock." In regard to the identity of *kem-, Liberman points to a group of Slavic words cited by Trubačev that show extended senses, as Bulgarian čemer "misfortune, poison, the plant Veratrum," Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian čȅmēr "poison, grief, gall," Slovene čemér "poison, pus in a wound, something bitter," Polish dialectal czemier "Veratrum, pain in a horse's stomach," Russian regional čemer "disease, headache, stomach pain sometimes accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting" (Dalʼ), Russian čemeríca "a plant of the genus Veratrum" (replacing Old Russian čemerŭ). Liberman's hypothesis is then that the base *kem- means approximately "poison, sickness, injury," and *kemer- as a plant name is no more than a derivative from this base, with a suffix *-er- of unspecified ancestry. The difficulty here, however, is that Baltic and Germanic only have the plant name, and neither show the profusion of meanings evidenced in Slavic. It would be more economical to regard the plant name as original in Slavic—the oldest form, in East Slavic, has only this meaning—and the other meanings as derivative ("poisonous plant" > "poison" > "sickness, misfortune, etc."). Liberman attempts to find other evidence of *kem- in Germanic (Old High German hamm "infirm," Middle High German hem "rebellious, malicious," hamen, hemmen "to slow down, retard"), though these and others cited look too semantically and phonetically disparate to be credible. In regard to dialectal Indo-European *kemer-, G. Kroonen cites as well Greek kámaros, kámmaros "name of a poisonous plant, perhaps of the genus Aconitum," and suggests that the entire set of words in Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and Greek reflect borrowing of the name of a toxic plant from a non-Indo-European substrate language (see Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, Brill, 2013, p. 219). Though it is not without question that there is some relation between this etymon and Old English hymblicae, etc, the possibility seems somewhat remote.

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of hemlock was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near hemlock

Cite this Entry

“Hemlock.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hemlock. Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

hemlock

noun
hem·​lock ˈhem-ˌläk How to pronounce hemlock (audio)
1
: any of several poisonous herbs related to the carrot and having finely divided leaves and small white flowers
2
: any of a genus of evergreen trees related to the pines
also : the soft light splintery wood of a hemlock

Medical Definition

hemlock

noun
hem·​lock ˈhem-ˌläk How to pronounce hemlock (audio)
1
a
: any of several poisonous herbs (as a poison hemlock or a water hemlock) of the carrot family (Umbelliferae) having finely cut leaves and small white flowers
2
: a drug or lethal drink prepared from the poison hemlock compare coniine

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